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By the end of this lesson participants will:

  • Shoot a video news story
  • Shoot a multi-picture slide show

There are many parallels between principles of making effective still-picture news stories and creating effective news video. After all, one can understand video to be a series of single images presented in rapid fashion to an audience to create the impression of motion. Of course, the purposes of the media differ. The video creates the feeling of the viewer of being there to observe motion. The still picture freezes the moment capturing emotion or other critical elements and allowing the viewer to contemplate the situation beyond the direct experience of the moment.

To make a newsworthy photograph or video story, the photographer must make pictures of the subject doing what makes the subject newsworthy. A story about an outstanding teacher requires photos of the teacher with her or his students. In addition, it should show the viewer the essential element of that relationship that makes the teacher outstanding.

In this lesson we examine some of the most important elements in using cameras effectively to present news stories.

Limitations of the Craft

The news photographer will use many of the story-telling tools available to the producers of television entertainment programs and theatrical presentations; however, there is a major limitation in the application of those tools in journalism.

An essential element of journalism (See Lesson: Identify Elements of Journalism) is verification -- the obligation to discover the observable truth about what happened, what was said and what was done. Journalists work with observable information as they apply a science-like process for the collection and analysis of information -- the objective method. The test of that method is that another journalist working with the same information might arrive at a similar conclusion and produce a similar story.

The fiction writer or theatrical film producer can also present "truth" and work well beyond observable information in so doing. The journalist can not. Therefore, when the news photographer applies the tools of lighting, camera movement, framing, composition, etc., the photographer must be applied with the goal of enhancing the viewer's understanding of observable information, not going beyond that as the theatrical producer may do.

The practical application of this principle requires the new photographer or videographer to avoid staging events or activities. The photographer must shoot what is there. The photographer may not "direct" the person being interviewed regarding what to say or how to say it (as the movie director might an actor). The photographer may not use footage shot at one location and present it as if it were from another -- in other words, the photographer may not misrepresent what is shown.

Tools of the Craft

The tools of making effective news photographs and video are often put into four categories -- composition, continuity, camera angle and other techniques. We consider each below.

Composition. This category includes the background, the primary subject and the action of the subject of the scene. Photographers must attend to all three of those elements in composing the scene for their work. Each should contribute to the story the photographer is developing.

Exclusion is a major value in composition. The relatively small screen of the television set and the even smaller screen of the Web site do not present the detail of wide angle, expansive landscapes or other complex, detailed pictures. Keep only the most essential features in a scene whenever possible.

Rule of thirds. The photograph or video frame is often divided into thirds horizontally and vertically. The primary content (subject) appears most effectively in one of those thirds rather than in the center of the frame. For example, in an interview the eyes of the person being interviewed in a close up should appear about one third of the way below the top of the frame and off set to the left or right so that the person appears to be looking into the frame. If the emphasis on a wide shot is a crowd scene, two thirds of the frame could be filled with crowd scene and the rest with sky. If the picture were about severe weather, the proportions might be reversed.

Frame within a frame. The edges of the picture create the first frame. If the photographer can place the subject within a second frame within the scene, the second frame draws attention of the subject in a powerful way. An example is framing a subject through a doorway or walking down a hallway, or appearing through a window.

Limit contrasts. Digital photography does not handle extremes of contrast well. Here is an example of the difficulty -- an interview with a person standing in front of a window during daylight. One will either get a silhouetted face and detail from the outside or and over exposed exterior with a properly exposed face. If one must choose, select the latter, of course. However, one might add light to the interview from additional light or reflectors or set up the interview at another location. Noonday light is often quite harsh producing dark shadows that reveal little or no detail. Additional light or neutral density filters may help when shooting as to be done then. Early morning or late afternoon shots produce better pictures because of the softer light from the sun.

Depth of field. The photographer will want the primary subject of the scene to be in sharp focus. Plentiful light, a small aperture (high f-stop) help expand the depth of field for the shot. Sometimes it is important to make some of the scene a bit blurred so that attention is focused more strongly on the subject. In this case reduce the depth of field by using a larger aperture (low f-stop) and neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light to permit the aperture reduction if necessary. To get depth of field in an interview avoid standing the subject near a wall. A long fence row shoot down the fence row, not straight on.

Framing multiple interviews. If the photographer is conducting interviews with more than one source for a story, the photographer may want the first subject framed on the left side of the frame looking to the subject's left into the frame. The next interview would put the subject in the right side of the frame looking to his right into the frame. One accomplishes that by placing the reporter asking the question on one right side of the camera for the first interview and on the left side for the second interview, etc. The photographer must also ensure the size of the heads of those interviewed are similar. This is more difficult if the interviews are conducted at different locations.

Some interview subjects will not have experience in being interviewed. They will be nervous and may want advice on what to do. The reporter/videographer can instruct the subject to look at the reporter, not the camera. Encourage the subject to just engage in conversation with the reporter; this will help the subject avoid movement in the camera frame and speak with a consistent voice level.

Use tripod. The tripod or other firm, steady platform is essential for interviews and other close-up shots. Photographers who attempt to hold the camera steady in their hands for these shots will almost certainly produce shaky pictures in which the entire scene appears to move in no obviously useful pattern as if being bounced around on waves on water. It is best to use a tripod in every possible scene. Of course in breaking news situations that may not be possible; however, to the extent that necessity produces shaky video or blurred still pictures, the impact of the scene will suffer.

Continuity. Stories usually have beginnings, middles and ends. So too does the video story or the multi-part still-picture story. While the post-shoot editing process will actually build the sequences and overall continuity for the story, the photographer should edit in the shooting process. Being aware of what an editor will need and providing those shots more or less in editing order will speed the editing process and enhance the overall quality of the story because the photographer presented essential shots. Review the discussion of continuity in the Participants Notes for Lesson 5 Edit Video & Audio.

Camera Angle. We see the world at eye-level; however, many enjoy looking at scenery from the top of a tall building, peering through a microscope at otherwise invisible objects, putting on goggles to examine the underway world. In effect, we enjoy seeing things at angles and heights different from normal eye-level, approximately five feet above the ground.

The photographer should find opportunities to give viewers perspectives of the story beyond the top of a tripod. What can a camera at ground level reveal about a scene? A camera close-up on the face of a football goal keeper? A view of a crowd from the roof of a prominent landmark? The audience will feel rewarded by the photographer who takes them to places they have not or could not easily go to present part of the story.

Move the camera. Avoid zooms. If the first shot is a wide one, when possible and practical move the camera to a different location to get the medium shot, don't just zoom in. After shooting a medium shot of two people, move the camera to get the close-ups. These shots produced from new camera angles will add interest and perspective.

Respect the axis. When the photographer begins shooting a sequence, the photographer should draw an imaginary line from the primary subject in the scene to the camera. For the rest of the shots in this sequence, the photographer should remain on one side of that line or the other. Crossing the line and including shots form both sides will disorient the viewer. The photographer can cancel the axis and begin a new one with a shot of the subject taken directly from behind or head-on.

Story Types. Each news organization may have its own terminology to describe the various types of stories it presents. The types are usually defined by the categories of content by which they are presented. Here is a list of common types:

  • Reader. The reader is a text only story the presenter reads. Often quite short.
  • Reader with graphic. This is a reader delivered by a presenter in which a graphic appears, often behind and over the shoulder of the presenter. Sometimes the graphic can take the entire screen while the text is read. The graphic can be a drawing, map, or other illustration or a still photo.
  • Voice-over (VO). The voice over story contains video that is shown while the presenter reads the text for the story. The VO will usually be longer in time than the readers, but shorter than the package stories.
  • Sound-on-tape (SOT). This title is carried over from the technology that presented video and audio on video tape. Prior to that term was sound-on-film. Now, in many organizations the video and audio content is entirely digital; however, the term is useful. It describes an interview excerpt or other sound element that is introduced by the presenter.
  • Package. The news package is a video or audio story delivered by a reporter. The bulletin presenter reads an introductory sentence or two, often about the importance of the story and perhaps the major facts that would appear in the newspaper headline or lead paragraph. The presenter than introduces the reporter by name saying the reporter has more or has the details. The package usually contains multiple sources and perhaps multiple locations from which the video or audio was recorded. The video story may or may not include a stand-up.
    In the stand-up the reporter is shown at one of the locations of the story illustrating, demonstrating or describing some part of the story that is related to the location. The stand-up can come anywhere in the story -- beginning, middle or end. It is somewhat more likely to be in the middle of a story to enable the scene to shift from one location to another. In that way the stand-up is a transition device. It may also appear at the end. In this case the reporter summarizes the story and often describes next steps that may happen
  • Tease. A tease is a brief piece of audio or video usually presented in the opening on at transition points of the bulletin. It functions as a headline to show what is upcoming in the program. For the video tease, the presenter usually reads a sentence of text. In this way the tease is a form of voice-over; however, much shorter. The audio tease can be introduced or followed by a sentence of explanation from the presenter.
  • Story. This describes a text-only version of the story the reporter has been working on. It would appear on the organization's Web site. The story might be produced as a single piece or broken into chunks of copy, depending on the design requirements of a particular Web site or story category.
  • Story and still. This is text story accompanied by one or more still photos.
  • Other types. News organizations may require the reporter to produce headlines, one-paragraph story summaries for the Web site or SMS, or mobile news services.

The producers of the various distribution platforms (TV bulletin, radio bulletin, Web site, SMS feeds, mobile web service, etc.) will tell the reporter what type or types of stories to develop from his or her reporting. Often, the reporter will be expected to produce multiple versions of the story for various distribution platforms. The rule in the multi-media environment is gather one and distribute many times and ways


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